World's fastest hybrid: A version of the new Jetta Turbo Hybrid, going on sale this month, that set a speed record of 185.4 mph in August.(Photo: VW)
Hybrid and electric cars need prominent labeling inside or out to
warn firefighters and other rescuers of the hazards posed by their
high-voltage systems after a serious crash, according to an influential
Hybrids or electrics should have inch-high letters
or badges on both sides and the rear that are visible to first
responders from at least 50 feet, says the committee of experts from SAE
International, formerly known as the Society of Automotive Engineers,
who looked at the issue. An alternative, it said, was distinctive
lettering on the dashboard that rescuers can easily see through the
The panel issued a variety of other safety
recommendations for electrified vehicles, from quick-reference guides
for first responders for each electrified model to guidance for
tow-truck operators on how to safely handle hybrids and electric cars.
recommendations will ensure rescuers "will not get electrocuted from
high voltage," says John Frala, a member of the committee and an
electric-vehicle repair instructor at Rio Hondo College in Whittier,
Calif. "It's going to save lives."
Firefighters have worried
about risks since the first modern hybrids and electric cars started
showing up more than a decade ago. Even though high-voltage lines are
often bright orange, the increasing number of electrified models from
automakers as they pursue higher fuel economy has led to worries that
first responders can't instantly identify vehicles that present special
hazards as they go about cutting them up to extract trapped passengers.
and electrics are proliferating like rabbits," says Buckley Heath, a
training officer for the Overland Park, Kan., Fire Department. "If
badging is visible from 50 feet, visible on all sides and standardized,
that can be nothing but a plus for us."
While automakers aren't
legally bound by the SAE Hybrid Technical Committee's recommendations,
they typically follow its findings. Automakers fully participated in the
SAE process, along with automotive engineers and emergency response
experts, says Todd Mackintosh, the committee's chairman and an engineer
for General Motors.
Mackintosh noted that many automakers already
have prominent lettering to indicate electric powertrains. He says
distinctive badges, such as Toyota's "Hybrid Synergy Drive" label on the
backs of several models, would suffice. Also, he says, the
recommendations allow some "wiggle room" for smaller vehicles.
requiring safety lettering might sound like a simple matter, it's the
kind of discussion that can quickly run afoul of marketing executives
and designers. Mackintosh says that this time there was a high degree of
While the recommendations don't apply to other
alternative powertrains, such as natural gas or hydrogen fuel cells,
Mackintosh says another SAE committee will be examining the labeling and
safety issues for them.